WSET Certification Figures Hit by COVID-19 but Buoyed by Growth of Online Learning

WSET CandidatesThe Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), the largest global provider of wine, spirits, and sake qualifications, has reported that in the last academic year (2019/20) a total of 96,845 candidates took a WSET qualification. This represents an 11% decrease versus last year’s record-breaking figure of 108,557 candidates reported in the organization’s 50th year – with this decline completely attributable to the impact of COVID-19. Over the same period, however, WSET saw strong growth in online candidate registrations, with numbers almost trebling compared to the previous year. Although candidate numbers fell for wine and sake qualifications at all levels, candidate numbers for WSET’s spirits courses bucked the trend with Levels 1 and 2 Award in Spirits growing +17% and +19% respectively versus the previous year.

In January 2020, halfway through the academic year, WSET was recording 15% growth in candidate numbers compared to the previous year and was on track to deliver 125,000 candidates by the end of the year. However, in March 2020 candidate numbers came to a standstill as WSET course providers globally were unable to deliver classroom sessions and exams. In response, WSET successfully fast-tracked its digital strategy, and by June 2020 was able to offer end-to-end online products in English in all subject streams (wine, spirits and sake) at Levels 1 and 2 – including remotely invigilated online exams.

WSET registered 14,000 candidates for online courses in 2019/20, representing 15% of annual candidate numbers, compared to 5,000 candidates (5% of annual candidate numbers) in the previous year. WSET’s digital growth reflects the increased global demand for online learning amongst trade and consumer audiences stimulated by global lockdown and working from home.

WSET course availability continued to grow in 2019/20 with 106 new Approved Programme Providers (APPs) offering WSET courses for the first time, including two new markets – Guyana and Myanmar. WSET now has over 900 APPs offering WSET qualifications in more than 70 countries. WSET’s top three markets in 2019/20 by candidate numbers remained the USA, UK and Mainland China, with the USA becoming the number one market for the first time. Several countries in the Asia Pacific and EMEA regions saw encouraging growth despite the pandemic, in particular South Korea (+28%), Japan (+18%), and France (+15%).

WSET Chief Executive Ian Harris says, “I am very happy with our performance given the circumstances, and I am incredibly proud of the WSET team who have gone the extra mile to see us through the serious challenges thrown at us by COVID-19. Our ability to roll out end-to-end digital products has not only been our savior in the short-term, but also opens up new opportunities for us in the long-term. We now have the flexibility to offer a blended package of classroom and online courses to meet the varying needs of our course providers and students around the world.”

Harris adds, “Looking forward to the new academic year, our priority is to stabilize our business; supporting our course providers and students through the aftermath of the pandemic. We have learnt many lessons from the last five months and will be using these to continue to make our business more agile and efficient. Additionally, we will be refining our digital products and services and gradually developing our remotely invigilated exams and eBooks in other key languages. We will also continue preparations for the launch of our first beer qualifications.”